Who wants to be a referee? I have never yet met a young boy or girl who has grown up wanting to be a referee - understandably they all want to be players. If I walk around Lancaster city centre I may come across people wearing shirts of a variety of Premier League clubs, Championship clubs, League 1 and 2 clubs (including Morecambe FC). I have never seen anyone wearing a referee’s shirt.
So how did it all start for me? How did I drift into it?
In 1966, I left Bury Grammar School and embarked on a teacher training course at St Martin’s College in Lancaster (now grandly known as the University of Cumbria). Whilst I was there I was playing on the left wing for the College team. One day, I had missed the game with an injured ankle courtesy of a crunching tackle by the sort of full back who existed in that era. I cannot remember who we were playing, but the referee did not turn up. It was suggested to me that I should referee from the centre circle, hobbling on my injured ankle. I remember quite enjoying being involved in the game despite not having intended to be. I persuaded the opposition that I was the best referee they had that day, and fearing a postponement they agreed to it.
Returning to College studies it was recommended that all perspective teachers should gain a refereeing certificate if we had any intention of teaching games. Having survived a taste of refereeing, I enlisted on the course which was to be organised by the Lancaster and Morecambe Referees Society. I remember Gerry Jones, Dick Ditchfield and Bob Duerden being the tutors.
Armed with my certificate as a Class 3 Referee, it was made clear that the Morecambe and Lancaster Sunday League was short of officials. As I was playing on a Saturday, it seemed a good idea to an impoverished student to earn 12 shillings and sixpence (62 and a half pence) by refereeing a few Sunday games.
My first match was on the Far Moor, Lancaster and was played between Lancaster Co-operative and the North Western Electricity Board, and thus began an almost fifty-year association with the refereeing side of the game. I eventually changed to refereeing on a Saturday in the North Lancashire League and had reached the Football League via the West Lancashire League and the old Lancashire Combination in 1977.
Over 600 matches later at professional level I joined the coaching and managerial staff of the Professional Game Match Officials and as I write I continue to be part of the organisation of referees at the professional level.
What has changed in that time? Certainly, the standard of pitches, the speed of the game, and the intensive scrutiny of referees by the media who employ every camera angle possible to judge decisions. This in turn has led to referees being more professional with heightened fitness levels. There is a myth that referees ‘don’t care’ when they make a key match decision error. Anyone who thinks that needs to attend a referees’ development session where they analyse these errors, looking at every angle, the movement in the build up to the incident, searching for an answer as to why they got it wrong. Debate is thorough, challenging and often argumentative.
A greater appreciation of the dedication and skill involved in refereeing might just persuade those youngsters in love with the game that picking up a whistle can provide as much fun and satisfaction as scoring that winning goal or saving that last minute penalty.
Or, like me, there is plenty of opportunity for those who stumble into it, unsuspecting, but gripped by the challenge once we began.
The game needs referees and for those whose playing skills are on a par with mine, there is no greater way to be involved. So why not try it – you never know just where the adventure might take you.